High school is always a tumultuous time, but for Club teen Anna, her high school experience has brought some big changes: the pandemic disrupted her academic career, her Club changed to reflect the Native community it serves, and Anna faced one of her biggest fears – speaking in front of strangers.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a hard time meeting new people.
My mom is a social person, the kind who loves to talk to everybody everywhere. I remember hiding behind her leg while she chatted with the cashier at the grocery store, trying to bring me into the conversation.
It was hard to have a voice because I didn't want to speak out.
But my Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gila River Indian Community has helped me with that.
This spring, I gave a speech in front of about a hundred people and earned the title of my Club’s Youth of the Year – something I never thought I’d do. Youth of the Year is the highest honor we have for a Club teen and it’s something I’d always thought about since joining the Club at age five. But I never thought it would be me – I’ve doubted myself, thinking “oh, there are other teens who would win over me,” and that speech requirement really intimidated me.
The staff here encouraged me to try for it and I practiced, practiced, practiced my speech. Now, I’m our Club’s Youth of the Year, someone I always looked up to. While I can’t say I’ve gotten over my fear of speaking in public (it’s still very much there), I can say I went for it even though it scared me.
That’s been a theme the past few years – which have been a rollercoaster as I navigated high school during a pandemic.
The COVID pandemic hit during my freshman year of high school. At first, we just thought it was going to be like an extended spring break. But then we didn’t go back to school for over a year.
I struggled doing virtual school from home. My house can be noisy, and it was hard to find a quiet space with siblings running around, babies crying and adults talking. With all of us kids home, my family also needed my help babysitting. It was a lot and by my first semester of sophomore year – all online – I got my lowest grades ever.
Now, I’m in my senior year, and I’m doing much better back in-person at school. I’m even taking college classes on the weekends, so that by the time I graduate from high school, I’ll have completed a full year of college courses.
I’m grateful for teachers, schools and colleges who understand that our GPAs got all messed up by the pandemic, and many kids like myself struggled during online classes.
Now, my goal is to follow in my grandma’s footsteps and go into pediatric medicine – she was a nurse at the children’s hospital here, and I always appreciated how kind the hospital staff was to kids (and I personally love babies!). When my grandma passed away a couple years ago, I decided to become a pediatrician – so college and medical school, here I come.
Over the pandemic, another big shift happened – my Boys & Girls Club detached from a larger organization and became a Native Club. All Club members have to be enrolled in a Tribal community to be here and now, our Club really reflects our culture.
I am really proud to be a Native American and I like to embrace that side of my identity and culture as part of the Gila River Indian Community. Our Club now looks like us: our logo was redesigned to include elements of our culture and the walls are painted with our patterns and symbolism. The Club brings in people from across our community to help kids connect with our heritage, from storytelling to music to hosting cultural meetings at our Club. My favorite aspects of our culture are the language and basket dancing.
Now that our Club has changed to an independent, Native-serving organization, it means even more to me and our Club members.
While I’m excited about being back in school and being at my Club, I’m a bit nervous about college next year and my social anxiety meeting new people there.
But it’s somewhat comforting to know I’m not alone – after the past few years, lots of kids are experiencing anxiety and other concerns. We’re in this together.
Mental health is such a big thing everywhere. On our reservation, it's something we talk about regularly and try to help each other as much as we can.
I feel that being understanding and a person who shares instead of judges is so important. Working with our younger kids at the Club, I know how much it matters to say, “I’m here to talk to and listen if you need me,” even if they don’t want to talk right away.
These days, it’s so important for people to have someone who will listen and check in.
And, as I’m learning, it’s just as important to use my voice and speak up.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides mentorship, meals and meaningful life experiences to millions of young people across the nation – including reaching 120,000+ youth on Native lands through more than 200 Native Clubs. Boys & Girls Clubs are safe, inclusive places where kids learn, grow and have fun. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential: